Scientists from the Harvard School of Medicine and University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have discovered new ‘sleep node’ in the mammalian brain which is responsible for sending us into a deep sleep.
The team of scientists found a specific neuron in the brain stem’s parafacial zone that makes the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is also responsible for deep sleep. They worked on the possibility of controlling these neurons by switching them on and off remotely.
This required new tools under a molecular approach to allow control of brain function at the cellular level. Innovative solutions were designed by the team since the level of precision for the molecular control was very high.
The scientists introduced a virus into the parafacial zone to express a “designer” receptor that only affected GABA neurons. They tested this designer virus in a mouse model and witnessed results, when they turned on GABA neurons in the parafacial zone, the animals quickly fell into a deep sleep without sedatives or any other sleep aid.
The team published their results in Nature Neuroscience, and suggest that their new findings will eventually translate into new drug treatments for sleep disorders such as insomnia.